Pakistan

I have two master's degrees from Columbia, keep the h silent in haute couture (you'd be surprised at how few Pakistanis like me do so), and know to scour the fine print before I sign anything. But I scrawled my signature on the most important contract of my life without reading a word. And, as I later found out, many of my also well-educated female friends did the same. Why do Pakistani women agree to marriage contracts without scrutinizing them first and making sure they won't be sorry later, asks Ayesha Nasir?

The Urdu expression `chaddar aur chardawari’ is often quoted in Pakistan to suggest that women are safest under their shawl (`chaddar’) and within the four walls (`chardawari’) of their home. This may hold true for many women, but for some, such as 25-year-old Naseeba Bibi, it could not be further from the truth. Naseeba said she had suffered continual abuse from her husband since they got married six years ago in Kasur, about 55km southeast of Lahore, Punjab Province.

Dr Shams Hassan Faruqi sits amid his rocks and geological records, shakes his bearded head and stares at me. "I strongly doubt if the children are alive," he says. "Probably, they have expired." He says this in a strange way, mournful but resigned, yet somehow he seems oddly unmoved. As a witness, supposedly, to the mysterious 2008 re-appearance of Aafia Siddiqui – the "most wanted woman in the world", according to former US attorney general John Ashcroft – I guess this 73-year-old Pakistani geologist is used to the limelight. But the children, I ask him again. What happened to the children?

We have recently received information from Asian Human Rights Commission that a tribal leader of Sindh province has held three women and two children in his private jail and one woman has been continuously raped for more than three years. She has had two children whilst in custody. The Sindh High Court and the provincial police have been unable to recover the five persons from his jail. The tribal leader held a Jirga, a parallel judicial system of feudal society announcing the murder of one of the men. This man and his wife were declared as Karo (black male) and Kari (black women).

Girls in Swat District, northwestern Pakistan, have gone back to school, and most women who had been prevented from working have returned to work, but people are still fearful. "We worry the Taliban will return and the persecution will start again. In every neighbourhood there are people who are linked to the militants and who keep an eye on the activities of us women," Sumira Bibi, 20, who works at a cosmetics factory, told IRIN in Mingora, Swat's main town. According to the government's National Commission on the Status of Women, there were 1,000-1,200 women factory workers in Mingora before the Taliban takeover in 2009. It is unknown how many have returned to work. Tens of thousands of civilians were displaced from Swat in the spring and summer of 2009 due to intense fighting between government forces and Taliban militants. Most returned after the army regained control in July. (See Swat timeline)

The fabric of Pakistani society, in general, seems to be afflicted with hypocrisy. At a recent seminar organised by the Aurat Foundation and the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), titled ‘Crimes in the name of honour and parallel legal system,’ representatives from various political parties were invited to provide input about what they believed was the solution to honour killings.

As a political activist and president of the women’s wing of the Awami National Party (ANP), Zahira Khattak has been working relentlessly for the empowerment of women in the war-torn North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan. She believes that by empowering them, they can contribute more to the peace efforts in the region. "We are holding a peace jirga in the near future in which women from the whole province will be invited to speak on the prevailing situation," Khattak said, referring to the spate of violence in the NWFP, one of Pakistan’s four provinces. Women have also been providing comfort to the bereaved families of the victims of militant attacks in NWFP, she said.

The Pakistani government should quickly reintroduce legislation to protect women and children from domestic violence, Human Rights Watch said today. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill was passed unanimously by the National Assembly on August 4, 2009, but the bill lapsed after the Senate failed to pass it within the three months required under the country's constitution. "Victims of domestic violence have long faced a double injustice - abuse at home and then no protection from the government," said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The proposed law has widespread support in Pakistan, and the government should make passing it a priority."

Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s trial begins today (Tuesday), while representatives of civil society and human rights organisations have decided to observe the day as ‘Free Dr Aafia Siddiqui Day’. On this occasion, different events like protests and candlelight vigils are being arranged across the world including the US, Europe, Australia, Middle East and Pakistan to highlight the plight of Dr Aafia. According to the details, a ‘Stand in solidarity with Dr Aafia Siddiqui’ event would be held in the US in front of Federal Court, 500 Pearl St, in lower Manhattan. On the occasion, members of civil society would fill the Judge Richard Berman’s courtroom. Please seen article below for background to the trial of Dr. Siddiqui

For Fazeelat Bibi, 21, the last few days of 2009 have brought her some retribution, if not cheer. "Justice has been delivered," said the young woman, her voice void of any feelings. An anti-terrorism court in the Pakistani eastern city of Lahore, on Dec. 21, ordered the noses and ears of two brothers, Sher Mohammad, 27, and Amanat Ali, 29, to be cut off after doing the same to Bibi in September. The court also sentenced the brothers to life imprisonment and ordered them to pay 700,000 rupees (8,300 U.S. dollars) in compensation to the victim.

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